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Makinwa: External views of elections 2015


THERE is certainly a lot of interest in the elections that are re-scheduled to take place in March and April judging from the abundance of reports, analyses and views from outside of Nigeria. 

   Although many African countries are holding elections in 2015, it is not likely that any of them will generate the massive and persistent interest that Nigeria’s elections do. For its population of some 180 million and to the world, the coming voting exercise will testify to the status of democracy, a relatively new political direction that emerged after the first adjudged real democratic elections of 1999. 

   The views and opinions expressed internationally show common features. 

  Of some 14 scheduled elections in Africa this year, a few are predictably fraught with problems and may not be held at all. The most doubtful ones are Central African Republic and Mali – countries that have had serious political and violent crises preceding their current fragile peace. In that vein, that Nigeria’s elections which were postponed from its original start date of February 14 to March 28 is already a negative knock and it raises questions about the country’s stability and how peaceful it is. Even though it is acknowledged that many political parties are contesting elections, the main electoral rivalry is between PDP and APC. The two leading parties are seen to be more similar than different.

   Questions abound on the readiness of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) and its capability to handle the massive elections that have generated unprecedented interest among Nigerians. The high percentage of potential voters that do not have their permanent voters card is decreasing.  It is a much welcome development as the cards are the only accepted voting document. The concerns of possible disenfranchisement and legal challenges that may arise from poor access to the cards worry some analysts as do the implications of limited or un-representative elections in three North-Eastern states of Nigeria where Boko Haram has out-staged government forces.

   Immediately following the announcement of the postponement on February 7, reports stated that Boko Haram’s offensive and lack of readiness of INEC were the main official reasons behind the postponement decision. There was obvious reluctance among several analysts to accept the official reasons stated and allusions were made to decreasing popularity of the ruling PDP and government’s intention to arrest the losses. Some reports wondered how Boko Haram’s conquest could be reversed within the six-week period of postponement.

   Predictions that violence would accompany the elections have come to pass. Reports of violence during ongoing campaigns are common. Any further postponement would not be welcomed and there have been widespread affirmations from outside the country to have elections as newly scheduled. Creditably, the voices on the issue even from within Nigeria have reaffirmed the same.  

   Some reports, mainly from the USA, went deeper into the nuts and bolts of electioneering by the PDP and APC. In explicit details, two top consulting firms of U.S. Democratic political party were cited to have worked for the two parties in Nigeria. AKPD Message and Media, owned by David Axelrod, a confidante and close associate of President Obama, worked for the APC whilst Joseph Trippi of The Potomac Square Group worked for PDP. Trippi is reputed to have worked on campaigns of UK’s Tony Blair, George Papandreou of Greece, Italy’s Romano Prodi and President Jonathan’s last election. These advanced, expensive consulting firms claim capability to deliver results for their clients. The reports elaborated on the sharpness of messaging and use of multi-media outreach including the social media to canvass support of voters. Jonathan’s public advertisements featured students, new building projects, and generally a lot of Nigerians smiling and working; and Buhari’s campaign had an aggressive social media strategy that made “change” a persistent theme. The competing demand to get attention of voters is not likely to change voters’ inclination appreciably during the six-week postponement span.

   Notably, a respected but usually conservative magazine, The Economist, has run series of reports on the elections, and their titles speak volumes – Nigerian politics: Bad luck for Nigeria; Nigeria’s election: The least awful; Nigeria’s postponed election: A powder keg; Why Nigeria has such poor election choices; Nigeria: Grim reading. In the “Least Awful” article, the weekly explained why “a former dictator is a better choice than a failed president”. In the same vein, the liberal-leaning newspaper, The New York Times, titled its strongly worded editorial, “Nigeria’s Miserable Choices”. According to NYT, “That Mr. Buhari, who helped launch a coup against a democratically elected government in 1983 and ruled until late 1985, has emerged as potential winner is more of an indictment of Mr. Jonathan’s dismal rule than a recognition of the former military chief’s appeal.”    

    Looming increasingly large over the elections are two different personalities – former President Obasanjo and Nobel Laureate Soyinka. Both of these well known figures have ceaselessly commented on the elections and their views and positions are reported worldwide. Criticisms have also trailed their views, especially those of President Obasanjo.

    The national elections, presidential and national assembly, are to hold on March 28, 2015; governorship and state assembly elections are to hold on April 11, 2015. It does appear that skepticism continues over the reasons for postponement and whilst INEC’s state of preparedness is an important item, the security angle looms large as a serious obstacle. INEC’s ill-preparedness may be overcome within the time. But the non-readiness of the military to provide security for the voting exercise as stated in February, twinned with declared intention of government and military to suppress or eliminate Boko Haram is “the elephant in the room” – an obvious difficulty that cannot be resolved easily. What will happen if the security situation does not change for the better within the postponement time?

    Least reported are several ongoing court cases which decision can halt the leading presidential candidates General Buhari and President Jonathan; rumours of possible interim government arrangement to further delay elections, and suggestions of military intervention – all unpopular choices. With so much at stake, and yet such darkened skies, it is correct to say that the world will watch closely the coming elections. 

• Makinwa is a communication for leadership entrepreneur based in South Africa and Nigeria.

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